Caitlin Bensel
Active Time
35 MIN
Total Time
2 HR 20 MIN
Yield
Serves : 4 to 6

Everyone has a dish that they’ve eaten in a certain place and time, a dish that speaks to the emotions the memory invokes. This Clay Pot Chicken was Sunday dinner at our house in Ikeja, Nigeria—a roast chicken dish sourced from our backyard. My family raised chickens, catfish, large African snails, and the occasional pig in our yard. Our garden featured dozens of leafy greens, vegetables, and fruit trees. Although Ikeja is more suburban than the lively districts of Lagos most visitors may encounter, it is still very much a part of the metropolitan area. Lush ingredient gardens are not uncommon in the homes of Lagosians; “backyard-to-table” is traditional to the cuisine.

According to my mother’s recipe, the live chicken is prepped that afternoon, the vegetables and herbs collected after the feathers were off the bird, and the clay pot soaked the night before. I had the tough job of picking out the herbs she wanted, a task I admit I didn't always enjoy. Her kitchen window opened up into the garden, and she would order me around for precisely what she was looking for. She ruled her kitchen with a silent finger pointing me this way and that.

This recipe is an adaptation for my kitchen. A store-bought chicken is trussed, rubbed with an infused compound butter—Alligator Pepper and Makrut Lime Butter, in this case—then nestled on a layer of seasonal vegetables. Lemongrass, whole lime slices, and ginger add a punchy fragrance and a tangible sweetness to the pot. In the oven, the delicious herb-spiced chicken drippings coat the vegetables and citrus slices, which all gently caramelize as the chicken cooks.

My recipe does omit the clay pot, and uses a Dutch oven instead, but if you have an earthenware pot handy, that will get you a little bit closer to the Sundays I remember back home. I don’t make this every Sunday like my mother did, but I can say I’ve eaten this dish more times in my life than any other meal.

How to Make It

Step 1    

Preheat oven to 375°F. Loosen skin from chicken breast and drumsticks by inserting fingers, gently pushing between skin and meat. Rub 6 tablespoons of the butter under loosened skin. Rub remaining 2 tablespoons butter inside of the chicken’s cavity. Season outside and cavity of chicken with salt. Secure legs with kitchen twine, and lift wing tips up and over back; tuck under chicken.

Step 2    

In a large 8-quart clay pot or large Dutch oven, arrange mixed vegetables, scallions, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, Makrut lime leaves, thyme, and lime slices. Place chicken on top of vegetable mixture. Cover and roast in preheated oven 40 minutes.

Step 3    

Remove pot from oven, and increase oven temperature to 400°F (waitfor oven to come up to temperature). Uncover and return chicken to oven; roast at 400°F until chicken is tender and a thermometer inserted in thickest portion of thigh registers165°F, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven, transfer chicken to a cutting board, and let rest at least 15 minutes. Remove and discard ginger, lemongrass, lime leaves, and thyme sprigs. Squeeze roasted garlic out of its skins, and return to vegetable mixture. Toss together vegetable mixture with pan drippings and remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Carve chicken, and serve with vegetable mixture.

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